In the seven days between Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, thirty games will be played in the English Premier League, as clubs face three matches apiece over the course of a week that could shape the title race, the contenders for the top four places, and the relegation battle. Last weekend in the final round of fixtures before the madness begins, all of the top five teams won, while the bottom four were all beaten.
In the early kick off on Saturday, Crystal Palace could consider themselves somewhat unlucky to have lost 3-0 at the Etihad against Manchester City. The reigning champions did not break the deadlock until after half-time, then David Silva struck twice in 12 minutes to open up a 2-0 lead for City. However, James McArthur should have reduced the deficit to a single goal, but he was erroneously ruled offside and his headed goal was chalked off by the officials. With any hopes of a comeback gone with that decision, YaYa Toure ensured his team victory with an absolutely stunning left foot finish late on. The three points temporarily pulled City level on points with Chelsea at the top of the table, until the Blues played on Monday night against Stoke, whom they beat 2-0 through goals from John Terry and Cesc Fabregas.
Arsenal were denied a victory at Anfield due to a late, late header from Martin Skrtel, who made it 2-0 in the eighth minute of injury time. It had been treatment to Skrtel for a gash on his head that caused the long delay in play, but the dropping of two points can be more directly attributed to poor defending from the Gunners, who completely failed to pick up Liverpool’s biggest aerial threat at the set play. That draw left Arsenal in sixth place, four points behind West Ham, who beat Leicester 2-0 last weekend in East London. Behind the Gunners only on goal difference sits Tottenham, who were pegged back by Burnley after Harry Kane had nodded home the opener, but a cracking strike from Erik Lamela – his first Premiership goal – gave Mauricio Pochettino’s men three much-needed points.
Elsewhere, Queens Park Rangers continued to improve their home form with a 3-2 victory over fellow strugglers West Brom, a result that lifted them out of the relegation zone despite the fact that they have lost all eight matches they have played away from Loftus Road this season. In the Tyne-Wear derby, Sunderland beat Newcastle for the fourth consecutive time, striking late through Adam Johnson, who grew up as a fan of the Magpies. Manchester United were held to a draw away at Aston Villa, with the home side forced to play the final half an hour with only 10 men, after Gabriel Agbonlahor was sent off, a ridiculous decision that was later overturned upon appeal. Southampton finally got a win, defeating Everton 3-0 at St. Mary’s, while Swansea piled more misery on Hull, winning 1-0 at the KC Stadium to leave Steve Bruce’s men second from bottom in the table.
With so many fixtures to choose from over the next week, here is a run down of the games you really want to watch:
Chelsea vs West Ham 12:45pm GMT/7:45am ET/4:45am PT – Derby between two London teams. Last season, Jose Mourinho accused the Hammers of playing “19th century football” when they held the Blues to a 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge.
Manchester United vs Newcastle – 3pm GMT/10am ET/7am PT – Normally a very entertaining match between these two sides whose natural inclination is to attack. Since Manchester United do not have many competent defenders, that trend is unlikely to continue.
Arsenal vs QPR – 5:30pm GMT/12:30pm ET/9:30am PT – Can QPR finally get anything from an away fixture in the…never mind, this will be a dire 4-0 victory for the Gunners. Time to hang out with the family again after four hours of football.
Tottenham vs Manchester United – 12pm GMT/7am ET/4am PT – Really the times are irrelevant. No matter where you are in the world, this game will be worth watching. Spurs have been completely shit this season, but a victory here could move them to within 2 points of United, or even lift them above them in the table should results go their way two days earlier.
Hull vs Leicester 3pm GMT/10am ET/7am PT – As things stand, this is a battle between the bottom two clubs and could possibly represent the only points either gets in any of their three fixtures (cue a Leicester home victory over Tottenham tomorrow to prove me wrong and piss me off). It also sounds like a question Ricky Gervais’ character Derek might ask “What would win in a game of football between 11 Tigers and 11 Foxes?”
West Ham vs Arsenal 3pm GMT/10am ET/7am PT – Those of us in the USA have the choice of games to watch in this time frame, since NBC’s coverage includes all matches and this one coincides with the Hull vs Leicester clash. Following on from their away defeat to Chelsea on Boxing Day, this fixture represents a true test of the Hammer’s potential top four pedigree against a team that currently sits four points below them in the league.
Liverpool vs Swansea 8pm GMT/3pm ET/12pm PT – This is the only match on that day – what are you going to do, not watch it? If you need a reason…umm Brendan Rodgers against his old club…Liverpool trying to get anywhere near the top half…oh just watch the match.
January 1st, 2015 (!)
Southampton vs Arsenal 3pm GMT/10am ET/7am PT – When these two teams met at the Emirates on December 3rd (all of the New Year’s Day fixtures are the reverse of the round from those midweek games a month ago), Arsenal grabbed a late 1-0 victory. That was the second in a string of four defeats for the Saints, but they will be hoping that playing at home will give them the opportunity to gain revenge on the Gunners and pile more pressure on Arsene Wenger. Or, Arsenal will make in a third victory in a week and will be comfortably positioned in the top four heading into the second half of the season.
Tottenham vs Chelsea – 5:30pm GMT/12:30pm ET/9:30am PT – In my dreams, this will be an exciting match and could provide a watershed moment in Tottenham’s season. More realistically, the Blues will thrash us en route to their march to another title, Champions League, F.A. Cup and League Cup triumph. Happy new year and all.
Last week, 4-6; Season, 71-99 (This time, no jinxes, just picks)
Home teams listed first
Chelsea vs West Ham – Home win
Burnley vs Liverpool – Draw
Crystal Palace vs Southampton – Draw
Everton vs Stoke – Home win
Leicester vs Tottenham – Draw
Manchester United vs Newcastle – Home win
Sunderland vs Hull – Home win
Swansea vs Aston Villa – Draw
West Brom vs Manchester City – Away win
Arsenal vs QPR – Home win
Tottenham vs Manchester United – Home win (seriously)
Southampton vs Chelsea – Away win
Aston Villa vs Sunderland – Draw
Hull vs Leicester – Home win
Manchester City vs Burnley – Home win
QPR vs Crystal Palace – Away win
Stoke vs West Brom – Home win
West Ham vs Arsenal – Draw
Newcastle vs Everton – Home win
Liverpool vs Swansea – Home win
Stoke vs Manchester United – Draw
Aston Villa vs Crystal Palace – Draw
Hull vs Everton – Away win
Liverpool vs Leicester – Home win
Manchester City vs Sunderland – Draw
Newcastle vs Burnley – Home win
QPR vs Swansea – Home win
Southampton vs Arsenal – Away win
West Ham vs West Brom – Home win
Tottenham vs Chelsea – Away win